Saturday evening on the University of Utah campus, Spyro Gyra delivered a spirited lecture on communication - with only a few words spoken.
The "oration" was a commanding series of musical vociferations ranging from classic jazz to Latin-tinged sambas, with leader/producer Jay Beckenstein's sax punctuating each expression with vitality and emotion.Words were unnecessary. This audience, like those of the past fourteen years, understood every syllable.
Gone was the usual cocktail-party atmosphere Snowbird has created for past Spyro Gyra concerts. The cerebral aura of Kingsbury Hall was a fitting backdrop for this critically acclaimed band. Imaginations were piqued and moods explored during this 90-minute musically eclectic trip.
With smoke filtering through crimson spotlights, Spyro Gyra entered, assuming immediate control of the crowd with a vibe-laced "Heliopolis." To appreciative hoots and cheers, Beckenstein stood back and gave percussionist Marc Quinones and keyboard master Tom Schuman a chance to show their stuff. They began a series of jazzy "conversations" that continued throughout the evening.
Beckenstein, who has avoided commercializing his sound, led the other five players through creative improvisations that have become Spyro Gyra's trademark. Missing was guitarist Jay Azzolina and drummer Richie Morales, who recorded with the group on its latest album. Their absence didn't hinder the group's emotionally charged interaction. They were obviously enjoying a joyous jam session, catching the spirit of the adoring crowd.
The turning point of the concert, transforming an already excellent show into a truly memorable jazz fest began when bassist Oscar Cartaya took center stage. Cartaya's show of terpsichorean talent made Chuck Berry's routine look like chopped liver. Memorable performances also were given by vibe/marimba man Dave Samuels, who added cool counterpoint to Schuman's multiranged synthesizer.
New Spyrogyrean percussionist Marc Quinones knocked out the crowd with "Para Ti Latino," a blistering bongo beat he wrote for new "Fast Forward" album.
Of course, no lecture could be complete without "Underpaid Professors," the opening act of the night. The four profs played a few crowd-pleasing pieces, then spent 15 minutes dismantling their equipment for all to enjoy.